Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
It’s easy to find the flaws in any generation. It’s much more challenging – and out of the ordinary – to find and encourage strengths. Consider this contrast that a supervisor or parent might take with a young person from Gen Z.
- “All my son does is sit around and play video games.”
- “It would be nice to talk with her but she won’t get her face out of her phone for 2 seconds to look at me.”
- “I’m impressed by your critical thinking strength. You tried a number of different solutions to defeating the enemy in that video game. After 10 totally different approaches you found one that worked!”
- “She’s very curious about her friends and what they are doing each day. She seems to always be asking lots of good questions and exploring what’s going on in their lives. I’ll bet her friends really appreciate having her around.”
Fault-finding does not advance us as human beings, but strengths-finding, according to character strengths research over the last decade, can and does.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s best in Gen Z.
By “what’s best” I am referring to strengths. And by “strengths” I’m not referring to strengths of talent or skill (Gen Z is good with technology or good with multitasking) or strengths of interest (Gen Z is passionate about social media or video games).
I’m referring to strengths of character.
Who is Gen Z? Who are these individuals at their core? What is best about them? How do they compare to previous generations on character strengths scores?
In looking at data from the only valid, free and comprehensive character strengths survey in the world (called the VIA Survey), we learn that Gen Z, on average, is high in honesty, kindness, fairness, judgment/critical thinking, and love. These strengths reflect a great blend of heart-strengths (love and kindness) with mind-strengths (fairness and judgment). Isn’t that what many of us strive toward – to be able to use rationality, logic and reasoning while also turning to intuition, emotion, and care?
In addition, Gen Z’s top strengths span 4 virtues championed by philosophers and theologians throughout time – the virtues of wisdom, courage, humanity, and justice. And, when compared to adults in the general population in the U.S., Gen Z scores slightly higher in their top 3 character strengths (honesty, kindness, and fairness).
In an earlier article, I wrote about the character strengths trends across the previous 4 generations (Silents, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millenials) and observed there had been a steady decrease in several strengths across all four generations – curiosity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty/excellence, gratitude, and forgiveness. Amazingly, Gen Z has bucked the trend! Gen Z has ceased those decreases by showing slight increases in all of these strengths, with the exception of gratitude.
There seems to be lots to celebrate when it comes to the strengths of Gen Z. Lots to build upon, to reinforce, to explore, to champion, and perhaps most of all – lots to appreciate. Practically speaking, in the next conversation you have with someone from Gen Z, point out one of the character strengths you see them using. Tell them you appreciate their use of the strength.
Here is the full rank order of character strengths for Gen Z takers of the VIA Survey, looking at those born between 1995 and 2000 (all now young adults in the present day). This is U.S. data, although the worldwide data for Gen Z is nearly identical with no meaningful changes in this rank order.
- Judgment/Critical Thinking
- Social Intelligence
- Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
- Love of Learning
Source: VIA Institute on Character: World database on character strengths
Niemiec, R. M. (2015). Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials: Are strengths decreasing? Found on Psychology Today.